Celebrating the far reaching impact of the N8 Policing Research Partnership

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Eight years ago this December, the N8 Research Partnership stepped boldly forward with a new initiative, one that would promote research collaborations between academics and the police and address the problems of policing in the 21st century.

At the launch of the N8 Policing Research Partnership (N8 PRP) in 2013, Professor Adam Crawford, School of Law, University of Leeds, who led the N8 PRP from its inception until last year, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to do something novel with national and international significance…to generate an evidence-base of high quality research on which policing professionals can draw.”

Others voiced their support. Rachel Tuffin, Head of Research, Analysis and Information, College of Policing said: “There are lots of gaps in the evidence base for the way policing is conducted and we hope that the N8 group will help fill those gaps.”

While Ron Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham Constabulary, said: “The value of academic research is that it is very robust. If you’re investing time and money then you’ve got to be sure you’re getting the outcomes that you want for policing. The N8 will help guide this.”

Nearly eight years on, and you don’t have to look far to find the impact of the collaborative work led by N8 PRP.

14 months into the nascent partnership, N8 PRP won a 5 year, £3 million Catalyst Grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), supplemented by a further £3.7m from policing partners and universities.

The ultimate aim of the Catalyst Grant was always to build a robust and sustainable infrastructure – with multiple points of engagement, contacts and partnerships around which policing practitioners and researchers can come together in mutual curiosity.

And it worked, because when that  grant came to an end, the N8 PRP’s success was enough for more funding to come through from the universities and police forces to keep the mission moving until at least September 2024.

 

Innovation forums 

Over the years there has been a lot of activity throughout different strands of the N8 PRP Catalyst project related to various topic areas, including small grants, conferences, data analysts and staff and PGR exchanges.

A few months after the HEFCE announcement, the N8 PRP held its first innovation forum, described as “the dynamic ‘engine’ of innovation at the heart of the overall project.”

The idea behind the forums, which have become a major engagement platform in the N8 PRP calendar, was to bring together key policing and academic partners with wider stakeholders to foster new research partnerships, identify key research areas and stimulate knowledge exchange and innovation around an urgent topical issue. The first was cybercrime and subsequent forums have addressed domestic abuse, policing and mental health, and knife crime.

The last in-person event took place at Everton FC’s Goodison Park in 2019 when multiple agencies and voluntary groups, including the award-winning Everton in the Community, joined police and academics to debate the rising problem of knife crime. In 2021, the Innovation Forum moved online to discuss Effective Partnerships in Policing – a three-day event including speakers from the USA, [OTHERS]

One of the aims of any forum is to inspire delegates to submit collaborative research projects to the popular and competitive Small Grants scheme.

 

Research and Co-Production Small Grants

In support of these emergent research collaborations and innovative partnerships, a key pillar of the N8 PRP is the small grants awards to help them off the ground.

These projects have delivered considerable outcomes including further follow-on research funding from other sources. All three of the small grants awarded in the first year went on to inform larger research projects and deliver real impact through research.

From policing bitcoin to interviewing perpetrators of coercive control, evaluating West Yorkshire’s Sex Worker Liaison Officer role to developing the police’s response to child-to-parent violence, the Small Grants have combined the focused and practical interests of police practitioners with the wide critical scope and rigour of academic research. This has led to new doors being opened for the academics resulting in practice-related impacts which would have been hard to realise without the partnership infrastructure and funding.

The small grants scheme demonstrates the value of research co-production and the dissemination possibilities of the partnership. For example, Dr Xavier L’Hoiry and a team at Sheffield University worked with South Yorkshire Police to develop a risk assessment tool to help officers identify victims of sexual trafficking online. This tool helped officers to prioritise resources for investigation, and critically included space for their own judgement.

The key findings and summary report of the work is, as with all Small Grants, now on the N8 PRP website, and Dr L’Hoiry, along with South Yorkshire’s representative John Crapper, held one of a series of webinars with N8 PRP partners and stakeholders to discuss the Small Grant projects. Involvement in N8 PRP thereby gives partners direct involvement in targeting research and access to the innovations and work of the wider partnership.

N8 PRP’s most recently awarded small grants proved the agility of the scheme, with the two initial awards on knife crime and organised crime groups being followed by four additional awards focused on how policing has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Small Grants will continue to be central to N8 PRP’s work, with the 2021 Call for applications closing last month. The scheme continues to innovate, with academics asked in this round to respond to a longlist of research priorities drawn up by police partners and awards being structured to increase their applicability across the forces. Collaborative and challenging engagement will thereby continue to be the hallmark of N8 PRP.

 

International resonance

Crime doesn’t recognise borders, and over the years N8 PRP has operated internationally and often by invitation. Former director Adam Crawford gave the opening plenary address at the international conference on ‘Security, Democracy & Cities: Co-producing Urban Security Policies’ in Barcelona in 2017.

In the same year experts in policing domestic abuse from America exchanged knowledge and strategies. Led by Durham University police and academics heard from award-winning innovators from Minnesota and what lessons could be learned in tackling men’s violence against women.

A year earlier at the University of Sheffield academics and practitioners from Australia, Canada, the United States, France, Belgium and the UK presented on their experiences of research co-production in the policing sector.

And awards have been won, for example Dr Jude Towers, the N8 PRP Training and Learning strand Lead and Fiona McLaughlin, Research Officer at N8 PRP Data Analytics strand, were the recipients of Excellence in Analysis by the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts.

 

A new era of co-governance

Eight years ago, collaboration took place but was ad-hoc. Where there was once uncertainty, today there is definition, where there was hesitancy, there is enthusiasm. The vision was to transform the relationship between police and academics and work centred on partnership formation and the development of a robust infrastructure – successfully.

With this in mind the new N8 PRP structure could in fact be the most notable achievement, because in 2021 the transition was made to a co-governance and co-funding model for the partnership. Money has come from both the N8 universities and the 12 Northern police forces and now there are two directors, one from academia, Dr Geoff Pearson, senior criminal law lecture at the University of Manchester and one from policing, Chief Superintendent Ngaire Waine, head of criminal justice at Merseyside Police.

In accepting her appointment, Chief Superintendent Waine, summed up the new landscape: “It’s my role to articulate the priorities of policing to academics and to assist the leads in each of the forces to convey the huge value the partnership offers to guiding policy in the years ahead.”

Now that sounds like a partnership. In a climate where demand is going up and resources are going down, police organisations are looking for innovative ways to understand what works and why under the banner of evidence-based policing, and where universities are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the impact of their research on society, the N8 PRP is a valuable platform for collaboration that can create change that matters.